Tube City Community Media Inc. is seeking freelance writers to help cover city council, news and feature stories in McKeesport, Duquesne, White Oak and the neighboring communities. High school and college students seeking work experience are encouraged to apply; we are willing to work with students who need credit toward class assignments. Please send cover letter, resume, two writing samples and the name of a reference (an employer, supervisor, teacher, etc. -- not a relative) to tubecitytiger@gmail.com.

To place your ad, email tubecitytiger@gmail.com.
Ads start at $1 per day, minimum seven days.

After 130 Years, Church Gives Thanks Before Closing its Doors

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
June 26, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Above: Rev. Warren Smith, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in McKeesport, brings Communion to a worshipper on Sunday, along with Allie Tyler and Bob Katko. The church on Ninth Avenue will close this Friday. (Tube City Almanac photo)

In the summer of 1887, when McKeesport had about 20,000 residents, "25 to 30" English-speaking Lutherans gathered under the leadership of William Passavant and Elmer Crouse to found the congregation that became known as St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Church attendance boomed as the city's population grew to 55,000, said the Rev. Kurt F. Kusserow, Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod.

Now, 130 years later, McKeesport has about the same number of residents and about the same number of congregants at St. John's, which will permanently close its doors this Friday. A final worship service was held Sunday at the church on Ninth Avenue, with about 50 people --- twice the usual number of congregants --- in attendance.

"If today's closing is a dark time, if it feels like an ending or a failure, then open your eyes, because the light of Christ is shining all around you," Kusserow told worshippers on Sunday.

"It is in our darkest times that the light of Christ shines most brightly," said Kusserow, who noted that St. John's closing happened on the 487th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession --- when early Protestants defended their beliefs to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V --- and during the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's distribution of the 95 Theses, the document that launched the Lutheran Church and the Protestant reformation by attacking Catholic practices as abusive and corrupt.

The end of St. John's Lutheran Church must be seen as one small event in a long history, Kusserow said.

"Even if this particular regular gathering of Christians has come to an end, the life of the church goes on," he said. "God bless each of you in your continued baptismal vocation, and God bless the city of McKeesport, that it may continue to know the light of Christ."

Above: The Rev. Kurt Kusserow, Bishop of Southwestern Pennsylvania, reads the declaration of leave-taking that acknowledges the closure of St. John's. (Tube City Almanac photo)

Following Communion and shortly before the congregation was dismissed with the 1834 hymn, "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less," parishoners presented Kusserow with the church's official records and assets.

Those records note that St. John's was formally chartered in 1888 and opened its first church building in 1892 at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Locust Street, when 100 people regularly attended services.

The present building, erected in 1959 and expanded in 1972, includes a stained glass window depicting, among other local and religious icons, the point at which the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers come together at McKeesport.

But the church is not the building, said the Rev. Warren Smith, who has shepherded St. John's for more than 17 years.

"God's mission continues beyond this day, and beyond these walls," Smith said. "We give thanks for the ways that God has nurtured this congregation throughout the years and led us to nurture others in Christ's name."

Before Kusserow's "declaration of leave-taking" that made the church's closing official, Smith --- using a cane to navigate the sanctuary following a recent surgery --- said brief prayers at the pulpit, the baptismal font and the communion rail to signify their central roles in the liturgical life of the church. All three are designed in the modernistic 1950s style contemporary to the current building.

Several regular worshippers said they plan to attend other Lutheran churches in the area, including Faith Lutheran Church on Lincoln Way in White Oak.

Saying that St. John's parishoners and their families have many fond memories of baptisms, weddings and other celebrations at the building, Smith dismissed the congregation with a prayer that "the Holy Spirit will continue to sustain them."

Sunday marks "not only the end of an era, but new opportunities for worship and service," he said.

Above: Some of the congregants at Sunday's closing service: Amy and Ed Singer, Mary Ann Peterson, Dottie Peterson, Ginny Rollin, Emily Pidgeon with Noah (9), Nancy Meyer and Janet Lieberum.

Above: Lieberum; Laura Jenkins; Rev. Warren Smith, pastor of St. John's; Rev. Kurt Kusserow, Lutheran bishop of Pittsburgh.

Originally published June 26, 2017.

In other news:
"Games, Ethnic Food Am…" || "Storm Damage Tops Dis…"